Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant formed one of the most successful and efficient partnerships in NBA history. The pair won three championships together with relative ease — and likely could’ve won more had they stayed together.
In 2004, after a disappointing Finals showing against the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers parted ways with O’Neal and pledged to build a new championship-level squad around Bryant.
The decision was met with much criticism from some fans. A lot of the hate was aimed at Bryant. He was called "spoiled" and a "diva" as a result of the breakup, and the lingering memory of that followed him for the entirety of his career.
Fortunately, albeit a bit too late, the narrative surrounding that whole situation has started to shift. It began with Jeanie Buss emerging and admitting the real reason O’Neal made his exit from L.A.
And it continued this week, when O’Neal himself admitted the real reason his dynasty with Bryant collapsed.
O’Neal told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on Showtime’s "All The Smoke" podcast:
“The reason why I got traded, it wasn’t about me and Kobe beefing. It was because they wanted me to take less money. I’m not doing that. I got money. I had money. I just should’ve been like, ‘Alright, I’ve raised you enough, its your team now. I know what I’m gonna do. I’m still gonna do my 28 and 10…But I was like ‘Nah, I want 150 [million].’”
As for why his relationship with Kobe originally soured, O’Neal admits that was probably his fault too:
“He was a guy who wanted it right away. And we all understand pecking order. It was my team. That ain’t about to happen. But I saw that he had something in him. This is where I wish a little more tactful. Egos get in the way…a lot of unnecessary stuff that shouldn’t have happened, happened, because of the ego, and it was probably my fault.”
This isn’t the first Bryant-related story to come out in recent days. Last week, an interview resurfaced where the Lakers legend described which player was the toughest for him to guard. Prior to that, a funny story about Bryant at the 2008 Olympics came out.
Bryant’s impact on the Lakers, NBA and sport of basketball is undeniable. Hopefully as more and more people like O’Neal continue to speak out, some of the blemishes that are currently on his record will start being viewed with a little more context.